LEGAL: A case of discrimination? Employee barred from sending letters to customers
Friday, Oct 3, 2014
In a recent discrimination case against the plaintiff ’s former employer, the employer counter-sued for defamation, tortious interference with business relationships, and unlawful use of civil proceedings/abuse of process. The counterclaims were prompted by correspondence from the plaintiff indicating his intention to contact the employer’s customers accusing the employer of “discriminatory and abusive practices” that were “illegal, immoral or both.” The employer contended that the proposed correspondence was defamatory, unfounded and posed a serious threat to its business relationships with its customers. The employer filed a motion requesting that the court issue a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the plaintiff from communicating with its customers in this manner. The plaintiff contended that his proposed correspondence was protected free speech.
The federal district court found that plaintiff's participation in litigation does not afford him a license to disparage the employer and/or damage its business relationships.
The court further found that the employer had a reasonable probability of success on the merits of its state law counterclaims, should plaintiff send his proposed correspondence accusing the employer of discriminatory, illegal and abusive practices. The court determined that the employer would likely suffer irreparable injury if the plaintiff was not enjoined from contacting the employer’s customers to denounce alleged “illegal” and “immoral” practices, and that the proposed communications were not intended for a proper purpose. Consequently, the court concluded that the public interest favored the issuance of an injunction against such communications. Rodriguez v. National Freight, Inc., 122 FEP Cases 481 (M.D. Pa. 2014).
In recent years, various forms of protestors have engaged in “corporate campaigns” designed to harm a company’s reputation, and the present case involves a similar campaign undertaken by a plaintiff in an employment discrimination lawsuit. The court’s opinion is aggressive in two respects. First, it found that the employer’s counterclaims likely stated valid claims for defamation, tortious interference with contractual relationships and abuse of process. Second, in spite of the plaintiff’s free speech argument, the court order enjoined or prohibited the plaintiff from communicating with the employer’s customers in this manner, despite the fact that courts are usually reluctant to prohibit speech prior to it being made, since doing so could “chill” free speech. Undoubtedly, one of the reasons the employer was successful in this case was that the plaintiff was proceeding pro se (without an attorney). In addition, the plaintiff’s various communications with the court suggested a desire on the part of the plaintiff to punish the employer, with no bona fide reason given for the communications.
Jeffrey G. Jones is a regional managing member for Wimberly Lawson Wright Daves & Jones PLLC. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.